Psychologist Vs. Psychiatrist: What's the Difference?

Psychologists and psychiatrists work with people suffering from grief, trauma or mental disorders. Both professions, though closely related, have several differences.

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  • 00:01 Psychologist vs. Psychiatrist
  • 0:34 Job Description
  • 1:22 Training Requirements
  • 2:51 Required Credentials

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The Difference Between a Psychologist and a Psychiatrist

Career Psychologist Psychiatrist
Degree Master's or Doctorate M.D. or D.O.
Description Studies human mind through lab test, surveys, and interviews Specializes in the treatment, diagnosis, and prevention of mental health problems
Licensure Pass state board of psychology licensing exam Pass United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) and board certification by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology's Psychiatry Certification Examination

While a psychologist and a psychiatrist work in the area of patient assessment and counseling, the job description, education and training are very different. For example, a psychologist typically completes a master's or doctoral degree, while psychiatrists must have a medical degree. Additionally, psychiatrists must complete longer training than psychologists to be able to practice. Let's look at some more information about these distinct careers.

Job Description

A psychologist studies the human mind through lab tests, surveys and interviews. Some psychologists may use this information to counsel patients suffering from mental disorders, grief or trauma. Others may apply their findings to explain and predict group behavior or help school children address behavioral issues. Psychologists may also study methods for improving an organization's work performance or personnel development.

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor. They specialize in the treatment, diagnosis and prevention of mental health problems. However, as a medical doctor, they may write prescriptions to help patients manage disorders such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or bipolar disorder.


Psychologists generally begin their career path with a Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. Students then pursue studies at the graduate level. Industrial-organizational psychologists can enter the job field with a master's degree. Psychologists must hold a Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology (Ph.D.) or Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) to practice.

A Ph.D. requires a dissertation, while a Psy.D. is based on clinical experience. Coursework in a doctoral degree program may include educational inquiry, inpatient and outpatient psychiatry, consultation psychiatry, psychopathology, cognitive and intellectual assessment, and clinical interviewing.

The educational path for psychiatrists is more complex than that of psychologists. After completing a bachelor's degree, usually in one of the sciences, an aspiring psychiatrist must complete the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). They then enroll in a 4-year medical school program to earn a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.). A Doctor of Medicine program offers coursework in biochemistry, cell biology, gross anatomy, physiology, neurobiology, microbiology, pathology and immunology.

Prospective psychiatrists must also complete a 4-year residency, which may be at a hospital psychiatric department. Psychiatrists must then choose to enroll in a specialized fellowship program to work with groups, such as adolescent or geriatric patients.

Required Credentials

Psychologists must be licensed by their state boards of psychology. Applicants with the appropriate master's or doctoral degree and 1 to 2 years of clinical or internship experience may qualify to sit for their state licensing exam, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards' Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology is used by many state boards.

Psychiatrists must be licensed as medical doctors in their state of residency. All states require physicians to pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). Psychiatrists must also become board certified by passing the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology's Psychiatry Certification Examination. Specialty certification in areas such as child psychiatry, forensic psychiatry, geriatric psychiatry and addiction psychiatry is also available.

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